The fashion industry, the world’s largest global polluter after the energy industry, is at a make-or-break point. Amid the ever-intensifying climate crisis, consumers, particularly Gen-Zs, are increasingly demanding sustainable clothing choices. 75% of Gen-Zs cite sustainability as factoring into their purchasing decisions – and businesses cannot afford to ignore the demands of these Gen-Z consumers, whose purchasing power adds up to a hefty $36 billion in the US alone, for instance. 

But significant barriers – affordability, knowledge gaps, and limited availability – currently prevent these younger consumers from being able to put their money where their mouth is. In light of this, fashion brands face a choice: harness this demand to survive and thrive or fail to adapt and evolve, thus falling out of favor. 

So how can the fashion industry begin to take the right steps? We believe that a key part of the answer lies in procurement leaders, who can play a strategic role in bridging the value-action gap for these young consumers to pave the way for a more sustainable future of fashion.

Tackling the affordability conundrum

Sustainable clothing brands often carry a premium price tag, placing them out of reach for cash-strapped younger generations. While this is generally taken for granted, recent strides reveal that sustainable fashion items can be made more affordable than widely believed. For instance, Consinee, a leading Chinese cashmere yarn manufacturer, produces recycled cashmere that is 10 – 15% lower in cost than 100% virgin cashmere. Herein lies the strategic role that Procurement can play: fostering partnerships with suppliers who combine sustainability and reduced costs.

But in a supply market where sustainable materials are still scarce and often expensive, fashion brands must also play the long game. Developing new methodologies and technologies will take time and financial investment, and Procurement must take the lead on nurturing strategic partnerships with suppliers to deliver innovative solutions. Getting a foot into the door with the right suppliers now – rather than down the line, when competition makes options scarce – means securing a sustainable supply chain for the future.

Demystifying the supply chain

The fashion supply chain is complex – and so consumers, particularly younger generations, can understandably lack the knowledge needed to make informed environmental choices. Here, Procurement, as the driver of supply chain activity, can act as the strategic catalyst for cross-functional collaboration, such as with Marketing, and partnerships with educational institutions to guide consumers on identifying sustainable products and where to focus their efforts as consumers.

The need for increased transparency also applies to fashion brands themselves. Working with clients, we see that organizations often lack visibility over the environmental impact of their own supply chains. Measuring and understanding which categories and suppliers, and therefore products, have the highest impact is a crucial first step towards data-driven and strategic decision-making. Many companies are turning to technological solutions and tools such as Efficio’s CarbonCube® to help them quickly and effectively calculate key scope 3 emission categories based off their procurement spend data, identify hotspots in their supply chain, and help to set baselines and targets.

Making sustainable fashion more accessible

As it stands, sustainable fashion lines still occupy a niche within the industry, rather than being the norm. Brands can bring sustainable clothing closer to the fingertips of conscious consumers by committing to offering only a sustainable option for certain product types and making sustainable choices widely available across product lines. This approach could also be paired with forward-thinking brand partnerships directed towards younger consumers to close the currently sizeable affordability and accessibility gap.

By addressing these issues of affordability, consumer education, and accessibility, fashion brands can turn younger consumers into a driving force for sustainable fashion. Procurement leaders should stand at the forefront of this transformative shift in the fashion industry, acting as strategic business partners to navigate this challenge.

Change can’t happen overnight – and so it will be the businesses that get on the front foot now that will successfully build a sustainable future, both for their own brand and the planet.

Need help building a more sustainable supply chain?

If you’re looking for a procurement and supply chain partner to help deliver sustainability improvements, please contact us via our Sustainability and ESG service page, where you can get in touch with our fashion industry experts.

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